New Zealand is risking the quality and reputation of its tertiary education system by treating international students primarily as a source of revenue, a report commissioned by the Education Ministry warns.
Internationalisation in New Zealand Tertiary Education Organisations examines the nature and extent of internationalisation since 1998. It says that policies remain too focused on the "sales" dimension and criticises a lack of integration between domestic and international education policy.
The report adds that this has "essentially been an export policy proximate to the education portfolio, but not essentially of it".
Instead, it suggests reformulating the approach to "give primacy to the internationalisation of the domestic student experience and outcomes" while encouraging world-class specialisation and developing a welcoming environment for international students and researchers.
"Without developing nodes of education, training or research excellence and leveraging these through strategic alliances with institutions in the 'macro' societies, smaller economies such as New Zealand will find it increasingly difficult to sustain an international profile for their education programmes and their research activities," the report says.
Few countries match New Zealand's high proportion of international university students - more than 16 per cent - and in none is the diversity of the population so narrow: 60 per cent are from China.
Since 1998, the number of fee-paying international students at New Zealand universities has soared from just a few thousand to more than 26,000 in 2004. Numbers are falling again, with enrolments down by about 10 per cent this year.
This mirrors a more catastrophic decline among private language schools - the total number of international students has plummeted from 121,000 in 2003 to 90,000 this year.